interpretation

A Path to Peace Through Mutual Respect, Not Agreement

Today is the second Kenny and Kylie Show podcast, which reminds me of one of the topics I briefly touched on a week ago when I was on the show.  I’ve developed this theory over six months of blogging. People can discuss a controversial topic in a civil manner, end the conversation without agreeing with each other and not hate each other. In fact, they can walk away with a certain amount of mutual respect and understanding. Comments on my blog have proven this to me time and time again.

I’m left to wonder, can this phenomenon be transferred into a real life conversation? In either case, would the spread of this kind of understanding make any difference in our world?

Online, people are used to being impersonal. When they read a person’s comments on a topic,  they add their own inflection and emotion. The original creator of a comment may have written it with passion that would make the words loud and forceful if spoken out loud, but a reader may interpret those words as questioning and unsure.  Since none of us like to be screamed at, I’d bet most people read comments as if they had been spoken in a clam manner. You’re not yelling online unless you type in all caps, right?

Typing in all caps is actually a very good analogy for vocal yelling. Reading all-caps is more difficult than traditional text, especially if the caps last for a whole sentence or paragraph.  In short, we are unlikely to pay attention to long text in all-caps and, even if we do choose to read it, we probably won’t comprehend what we are reading as well.

The same can be said for yelling in person. I don’t know about you, but I stop listening when someone screams at me. At that point, my options become limited. Someone who is screaming is unlikely to listen to anything more I have to say. I can choose to engage them, yelling right back, but what good would that do? Neither of us would truly be listening to each other. We certainly wouldn’t be respecting each other.

My other options in that moment are to find a way to defuse the situation or to simply walk away. The conversation ends without any respect or understanding added to the world. Any potential good that conversation may have generated is lost.

People recognize that typing in all caps, like yelling, is not an action that will gain them attention. As such, you’ll see most comments on blogs and news stories typed in regular text, even if they are meant to express anger. People rarely know how many people will pay attention to what they say online, but they all want the same thing: to be heard.

The funny thing is, no matter how passionately we type, our words will always be subject to the interpretation of the reader. Since people don’t enjoy being yelled at, comments a person may have yelled in real life are probably being read in a calm voice. Unlike yelling, this makes it more likely a person will actually listen and absorb the content. In this way, they are able to gain a better understanding of that commenter.

This photo, “Quote Lao Tzu 1” is copyright (c) 2014 Hartwig HKD and made available under an Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic license

Occasionally, I’ll see conversations on my blog that go on for a long time. While every one of these conversations has not been filled with respect, I’d argue that most were. More than once I have engaged in conversations with commenters that end without reaching an agreement and without disrespecting each other.

All this conversation rarely makes it outside the two or so commenters engaged, so does any of this make any difference? If no one changed their opinion, what good is civil conversation?

I argue that it can make a huge difference. The example I used last week on the Kenny and Kylie show was the belief in God. This is a great example because people rarely have any amount of understanding or respect for people who think differently from them. In person and online, I have seen religious people attack non-believers and vice versa.

Part of this disrespect is born out of a lack of understanding. How could someone believe in something that can’t be proven or even seen? Likewise, how can someone believe life does not continue after this one, that this whole world is just random? Since neither of these perspectives will ever leave our world, the most important question to ask is how these two viewpoints can learn to respect each other?

Maybe you’ll think me idealistic and overly optimistic, but I think building mutual understanding and respect can have a huge impact on the world. Can you imagine a day where politicians try to manipulate people based on their fear and misunderstanding of another religion and have their plan fail? Could there be a world where enough of the population has respect for other religions not to buy the idea that religious dogma is reason enough to go to war?

When I talk about changing the world, I never speak of changing the world in my lifetime. I am talking about a world generations into the future. In this world, the number of people who understand how to respect opposing views outnumbers those who fear and yell at their opposers. It won’t be a perfect world and it probably won’t be completely peaceful, but I do think it will be better.

The more people who can respect people with opinions opposed to their own, the better our world will become.

Do you think building understanding between people who disagree with each other promotes a better world? Could you ever respect someone who thought differently than you? Are there any opinions that you find impossible to respect? 

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43 thoughts on “A Path to Peace Through Mutual Respect, Not Agreement”

  1. Interesting theory about the blogging conversations. Or online conversations. Somehow there is always the interpretation of a written text. Though read in a calm manner can still be read wrong. As not al written words convey the real meaning you trying to put across.
    Online there will be however as said less screaming in caps.

    And it may not be so much of lack of understanding as maybe being wrongfully taught. When being told one thing is right the other automatically becomes wrong.
    It does give us to think we need to try and get people to think for themselves and create an opinion. Though most likely always comes back to what has been taught to them in the beginning.

    We are a species who love change as long as it does not changes our thinking, teachings or beliefs. After all we are taught to be right.

    Can one live beside another. Maybe, soon as we can get past the “I am or we are better syndrome” And respect an opinion or belief.

    1. I read a blog not too long ago that said people need to be taught how to think, not what to think. Just because something is right for one person does not automatically mean it has to be right for another person. I don’t understand what’s so hard about that. How boring would the world be if we were all the same?

      1. I so agree but isn’t everything around us being build to think for us and kind of tell us what truth is?
        Are we not getting boring.

        Though glad someone like you is here to help us think for ourselves.

  2. My brother and I disagree on just about every touchy topic. Religion and politics being at the top. But, I love him and we play in a band together, and are able to agree enough to create music. I respect him for his beliefs and he does the same to me. So, yes, I do believe it’s possible, providing the participants agree that two divergent thoughts can co-exist.

    1. That’s probably key. If you don’t think the two ideas can co-exist peacefully in the world, it will be hard to find a place of peace.

  3. If a person believes something that causes harm to others, i.e. denies them the same rights as the believer, I have no obligation to respect the beliefs nor do I feel compelled to respect the believer beyond basic human courtesy. So I am courteous to a lot of people I do not respect because I think their beliefs make the world less than it could be.

    1. I think a draw the line at whether or not they are actively trying to take those rights away. I’ll pick an issue most people agree with – women’s suffrage. Say I encounter a person who believes women shouldn’t have the right to vote. I disagree and am even offended at the thought, but it’s a free country and they are allowed to think what they want. However, if they contribute money to or join a group trying to get rid of women’s suffrage, now I have a serious problem. That action would be what removes my respect because it would mean they clearly don’t have respect for people who think differently.

  4. Dude, the minute someone starts yelling, not only do I lose interest in what they are saying, I also pretty much lose respect for them in general……yellers are annoying as hell . Its why cable news annoys me so much.

    1. This is probably why I rarely yell. It does nothing for me. I had a friend who once told me we developed yelling for a purpose and that I was doing a disservice to myself if I didn’t show my anger when angry. I’ve found calming down and attempting to narrow down why I am angry, then communicating that reason to the offender, works far better for me. Also, it’s not as loud. And I stay happier longer ^_^

  5. The key here is understanding anger.Its comes from the uncertainty a person has of being shown to be in error. Their ego and their beliefs seem to be making a fool of them. As a sixty year old used- to- be- alpha-male, I deter yelling by asking,” What are you afraid of, We’re just talking.” The answer/response is always predictable. Then I say” I want to understand you, work with me here,,you make some good points,work with me.” That makes me the dummy and the other person tries to be a really,really good teacher,as they try to educate me. After a while they usually see my point and realize that I was ahead of them from the beginning and they want to hear more of what I have to say.’ ‘ ‘Religious ‘ people make easier converts to an argument than Politicial fanatics. Why? Money in the hand is worth more than words can ever say.

    1. That certainly makes sense, although there will always be ideas I don’t understand. Still, I think you’re on to something. People are more likely to listen and open themselves up to another perspective if they feel like the other person understands their viewpoint. A lot of anger can come from the idea a person isn’t being listened to. It’s frustrating. I always try to say something that lets the person know I hear them and I understand what they are saying to me.

  6. I feel that everyone has to find their own path. Just because I have beliefs that are unshakable, I can’t expect others to always agree with them. I have a healthy curiosity for what makes others tick, I can’t comprehend abusing someone for being different than me.
    Saying that you see it all the time, with religion, with politics, in sports etc. half the time I just don’t have the passion for the subject to want to engage. Healthy discussion without denigrating is increasingly rare.
    The only (non-prejudice) opinion I find impossible to accept is the one that says I have no right to my opinion if it is different than yours. Ain’t nobody got time for that ;)
    If you get into the realm of prejudice or discrimination that is a whole other kettle of fish, not one that I think you’re aiming at here …

    1. I’m good with different opinions, even opinions that are discriminatory. People are free to think whatever they want. However, I have a problem when a person takes actions or contributes to an organization aimed at removing rights from others. Even then, it’s not the opinion that I take issue with as much as the action.

      And, of course, someone who has a discriminatory must also face the consequences. You have the right to have an opinion and people have the right to be offended by it.

  7. I’m a liberal who made friends with some libertarians on a cruise once. They wanted to keep in touch. And all we discussed was our different perspectives on politics — civilly, I might add. If I’m motivated I can do it. But I don’t always.

    1. I’m usually good with libertarians. It’s funny. When I talk to people who are liberal, I come off as very libertarian, but when I speak to libertarians, I come off as more liberal. I must be somewhere in the middle. I guess what I’m saying is that those two sides seem to get along well enough. (usually)

  8. I loved reading your post and your thoughts. I’m surprised when I find so many other posts that are attacked. I also find it interesting when those who disagree tend to resort to personal attacks, or begin attacking issues that had nothing to do with the original discussion. The thing is, I love reading about different viewpoints. I try to stand on both sides of the topic and examine the views, so much that I’ve often told my husband, it’s like I’m in some weird nether region. When a group of us get together, those with the loudest, strongest viewpoints tend to end up with ‘camps’ of followers and I’m wandering between them because I want to understand both sides. For those issues I do have strong view points, I welcome other opinions. I want to hear what others think. Is there something I haven’t considered? Some point I lost in the process?
    I think it’s a skill we might have lost over time. Debate. I look back to the days of Socrates and the great debates and wonder if we brought some of this back, we might just change the world.

    1. I agree. Even with those issues that I do feel passionately about, I think hearing opposing views helps me fight back. If I don’t have anything to combat a point made by an opposer, than I clearly don’t know enough. I’m not going to turn to personal attacks when I get frustrated that I don’t have a good comeback.

  9. Great blog. I learned seek to understand before being understood. Im not perfect at at tho. I do.type in.all caps a lot but im coming from a satirical, laugh at yourself funny manner similar to the Bloggess. Or Stephen Colbert type stuff. I point out ironies, at the same token” telling on myself” & maybe adding a little sass. My goal is to make people laugh , take themselves less seriously (and myself) so we can enjoy the mircale of life admist a very complex & sometimes very tragic world. Love what you wrote!

    1. I like to think I try to understand before expecting to be understood as well, but it’s frustrating if the other person doesn’t try to do the same. If I have enough respect to try and understand another person, that other person should have that same respect for me.

  10. I discuss things with people that I disagree with often. Usually it isn’t all that fulfilling. It gives us both an opportunity to talk about our ideas, but if there isn’t any kind of give and take, it’s just draining. I respect their opinion, and keep my comments civil, but it only gets down to real conversation once we actually respond with an extension of each other’s thought, rather than just waiting for each other to stop talking so we can hit our next point. With enough time and a peaceful flow in the conversation though, I can enjoy anyone’s thoughts. And yes, I have accepted someone’s ideas as worthy of consideration. Can’t say that about many of the folks on the other side of conversations. Especially any that deal with religion. Those are almost always dead-ends…..

    1. The give I look for is mutual understanding. It’s not that hard to say “I understand your point because (fill in the blank), but you have to understand (my opposing view)” It just lets the person know you are engaging in the conversation. You’re listening.

      I have a spiritual side a respect for most religions, but I do my best to avoid religious arguments with most people. There’s just no logic there. “Well I was told the Bible said this” is all the proof they need. You can’t fight against that.

  11. I think coming away from a conversation with respect would go a long way to helping the world. Most arguments or conversations I see going on around me end with anger or resentment towards the other person. That is not an acceptable way to deal with opposing ideas. If people can learn to respect one another’s opinions and views then the world would be a much better place.

    1. People may not always come to a peaceful resolution of every topic, but it bugs me that people don’t even try. It bugs me even more because I often do try, only to find the other person isn’t bothering to listen to me. At least online, we’re forced to think through our thoughts and type them out. It doesn’t fix everything, but I think it does cause more people to think before they press enter.

  12. I think it’s easier to loose your shit in an online conversation than it is offline. Only because people find that typing can be a medium where you can easily say what you want that you might not say in real life.

    With me I guess I just say what I would in real life online too. There is no hidden bits, I’m a bit of an open book that way.

    I tend to give respect online because I genuinely love engaging with people who don’t share the same viewpoint as me because I want to know how they came to the conclusions they have and why they believe what they believe… I find it enriches my life than anything else.

    1. I’m the same way. I don’t have anything to hide. In fact, I hate the very idea of hiding. I’m not here to put on a show. I just am who I am. While the internet doesn’t stop people from being insulting, I still think it can foster better conversation sometimes. You may read something in a clam voice and choose to reply, but, had that person said their comment out loud, they may have angrily yelled it at you. I imagine many would respond to that with a big Fuck You! and walk away. but only, so long as the language is respectful enough, you may choose to engage in that conversation.

      it’s not perfect, but I certainly have more deep conversations on line than I do in person most days.

  13. I think that the understanding you speak of is essential to civilized society; after all, we are not all cut from the same cloth, and we can’t expect everyone to agree.

    I have a good friend who is a serious pro-lifer, and I totally respect him, even though I think the pro-life agenda conflicts with individual rights; even though I’m personally against abortion in most cases, I think a woman should have the final say to what she does with her body and anything in it. He feels differently, taking a fairly hard religious conservative approach; so when the issue has come up we have both been smart enough to realize that this impasse is not the only road to travel and so switched gears . . . because in the end, disagreements are not what builds relationships and community. People who want to be friends will likely try to be friends, and so maybe part of the problem with aggressive division is that neither side wants to be friends with the other; they think their views are so incompatible as to make them enemies to each other, and thus we begin the war long before any shots are fired.

    1. I certainly agree, but it’s how this civility translates to law that will be society’s true test. Can people who are morally opposed promote their perspective but allow it to be safe and legal for those who choose otherwise. Can they let a person’s personal actions be between them and their maker?

      That is one heated issue. With these really big issues, it’s supper hard to have a civil conversation.

      1. Well, especially when you’re talking with somebody who you know isn’t going to change their opinion in the face of incontrovertible proof. Then it’s pointless to argue in the first place, but sometimes you have people like that on both sides – that’s when they start “talking war.” Because neither one wants to permit the other the right to be correct from their own perspective.
        Ideally, laws allow for this sort of interchange, but sadly hardcore religions tend to work the opposite way. They don’t want to allow different ideas in the same space, they either want to abolish them in anyway possible. And I hated pigeonhole religions that way, but that’s just how the mainstream appears to me.

  14. Hi, TK. Would you be so kind to post several your thoughts (from this or next your posts) as comments to my “JF’s Challenge: Bloggers Thoughts” and give a link to your appropriate post”?
    I like your thinking and writing! Best to you!

      1. Bloggers put there their thoughts and give links to their appropriate posts. Please read the post and what is already in comments.

  15. I think it’s important to distinguish between respecting a person and respecting a person’s opinion. Let’s take a hard look at this.

    A person approaches you and says, “all children should be forced to torture small animals.”

    I think we can agree that this opinion is, on several levels, unacceptable–and therefore unworthy of respect, so long as we don’t respect the act of forcing children to torture small animals. It might also be tempting to say that such a person is not worthy of respect. I know there are people whom I’ve thought that about, as a result of the things they’ve said and done.

    On the other hand, is a person who says this inherently “evil?”

    For the sake of argument, let’s assume that nobody is literally born “evil.” This means that at least part of a person’s views and actions are strongly influenced by that person’s past life experiences. So, let’s append to the above assertion the person’s reason for believing this way:

    “All children should be forced to torture small animals because when I was a kid, my parents forced me to do that, and it was a character-building experience.”

    Now we have a more interesting problem: we can’t accept that person’s suggestion as being good or valid–and we’re certainly not going to acquiesce to it!–but if we have even a shred of empathy, we’re going to feel sorrow at the suffering of the person who suggested it, realize that the person’s beliefs are likely a coping mechanism (justifying past trauma in order to continue functioning, emotionally), and perhaps think one of the most profound thoughts I’ve experienced, with relation to others:

    “If I went through what this person went through, can I say with absolute certainty that I wouldn’t react in much the same fashion? Might I have turned out a lot like that person? I can’t prove that I would or wouldn’t.”

    Herein lies, in my view, an important element of respect: knowing that, no matter what a person might believe or do, if you were in the exact same circumstance–having the same upbringing and life experiences, with the same neurochemistry, and so on–you, yourself, could have the same unrespectable views that the other person has.

    Therefore, I find that regardless of whether we agree with or respect a person’s ideas, it’s always possible–and the right, compassionate thing to do–to have at least a little respect for the person has those ideas. Put another way, we can absolutely evicerate an idea for being “wrong” (according to our beliefs), but so long as we make it clear that we respect and love the person forwarding that idea–and that person is able to see the difference between him/herself and his/her idea–then respect and mutual love is always possible.

    I think this has a very real chance of changing the world in our lifetime. :-)

    (See also: NonViolent Communication/NVC.)

    1. This is fantastic and I think reflects how I look at these conversations. It all comes down to asking the right questions and listening. Instead of saying “WHAT! How dare you! I hate you!” when you first hear the opinion, you can say something more like “why?” or “What logic is behind that opinion?” It’s that understanding that builds respect for the person, not always the idea.

      1. That’s a good insight about asking why a person believes a given way, instead of letting ourselves be “triggered” by what they’ve said. Yet another reason to love the question, “why?” :-)

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